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We need the Department to listen to issues regarding hearing tests

Eamonn Donaghy

Eamonn Donaghy is the Chief Executive Officer for Age Sector Platform – a charity that champions the cause for older people in Northern Ireland. Through its membership of groups and individuals, it has connections with around 200,000 older people. In 2011, Age Sector Platform created the Northern Ireland Pensioners Parliament, which raised concerns about hearing services.

At the sixth annual Northern Ireland Pensioners Parliament in October last year, a motion was approved by the vast majority regarding our NHS hearing (audiology) services.

Delegates spoke about the unacceptably high waiting lists for hearing tests, poor aftercare and the general inaccessibility of hearing services within Northern Ireland.

At the end of a session on health and social care services, they called for NHS hearing services to be provided in the community in full consultation with the needs and views of older people.

This motion followed work by Age Sector Platform during 2016 aimed at capturing feedback and opinion of older people through surveys and face-to-face engagement with our individual and group members.

It revealed a growing sense of anger and frustration among older people across Northern Ireland around their audiology ‘experience’. This included:

  • Lengthy waiting times for routine hearing tests from referral to appointment, with many having to wait longer than the 13-week target
  • Appointments being arranged in hospital, and at times and locations that were difficult or inconvenient
  • Absence of follow-up appointments
  • Poor quality and/or lack of information and advice on the basic maintenance of hearing aids and associated equipment.

This dissatisfaction was fuelled in September 2016 by the decision of the Department of Health to ‘put on hold’ a pilot scheme that had been announced the previous year, but never implemented.

This scheme was to allow NHS hearing tests and associated audiology services to be conducted in the community by private sector providers who met NHS quality requirements, prices and contracts.

This would be similar to the Any Qualified Provider (AQP) initiative that currently operates in England and many older people here believed that this would have helped to address the issue of long waiting lists.

These initial findings prompted more in-depth, qualitative research. Two focus groups, commissioned by high street chain Specsavers, who also conduct hearing tests, were facilitated by Age Sector Platform in March 2017 involving 20 older people.

The experiences shared at the focus groups confirmed earlier findings around areas where audiology services are not performing as well or as consistently as they could be, particularly around information, lack of proactive aftercare and follow-up, waiting times and accessibility of services.  

Respondents strongly endorsed the availability of community-based hearing care as a means of reducing waiting times, improving choice and convenience, with older people not having to make long, often difficult journeys to hospitals to attend very early appointments.

Age Sector Platform believes that there is an opportunity for the Health Service to engage with older people around co-production of a service that meets the needs of service users.


Do you suffer from hearing loss? What is your experience of services available to you and how could they be improved?


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